There are a lot of things that make me proud of Atlanta Youth Lacrosse. By far, the part of AYL I am most proud of, is our relentlessly positive fans. Since the program’s inception, the AYL staff strived to create an atmosphere of true sportsmanship on the sidelines, and we have succeeded in doing so because of like-minded and supportive parents.
There are a lot of youth lacrosse programs in the United States that encourage positive sideline behavior, but there are also a lot that turn a blind eye to anything said from the stands. I find that disheartening because, at the end of the day, all of those negative comments are heard and internalized by the young players. Now, there are some people who say that mean words from the sideline toughen up kids. When a fan tells me that I immediately conclude that anything else that comes out of their mouth is not worth the energy to listen.
Imagine how productive would you be at your job if every five minutes, someone, who has no idea how to do your job, called you a stupid insert curse word here? That is what all negative comments at youth sporting events boils down to. There are one or two individuals who never played the game yelling at their kid or someone else’s kid, when they have no idea what they are talking about.
Case in point, I was officiating an in-state tournament this past summer. The horn blew for halftime and a dad vaulted over the barricade by the fans sideline, ran onto the field, and started berating his son, the goalie. He gave a verbal dress-down about how terribly he was playing, and how he was letting his whole team down. Before it escalated any further, I walked over and informed him that he was not allowed on the field. I spent the remainder of the day angry because this individual, who I am certain never played goalie in his life, believed his knowledge of the game was so vast that he needed to impart it in the most heinous and memorable way possible. As I said in the Language post, all he did was reveal his own ignorance.
So the big question here is: how do youth programs promote responsible and positive sideline behavior. There are two methods out there, one of which I prefer to use. The first is the US Lacrosse Sportsmanship Card. Which states, in very polite language, that the offender is acting against the honorable traditions of the game. Many organizations use this card by handing them out during games to fans who forget that the game is about encouraging sportsmanship, respect, and honor. While I like the concept, I believe it lacks teeth. Which is why we use a different method to enforce good behavior at Atlanta Youth Lacrosse.
Whenever I am officiating a game at our league and one or more fans becomes belligerent or very negative, I stop the game and walk to the sideline. I calmly look up and down the row of parents and fans, then state the following:
“There are some individuals who are not contributing to a good, sporting atmosphere. I do not know who you are, but you, and the people around you, know who you are. The next time I hear a comment that negatively impacts this game I will stop the game, come back to this spot, and turn on my stopwatch. I will burn two minutes off the game time, and every player will sit at the bench because of your actions. If I come back again it goes up to three minutes, then four, and so on. Thank you for your support in honoring the tradition of this game.”
I have used this threat three times in five years, and I have not had to follow through on it yet. When you threaten to eliminate the playing time of everyone, each fan on the sideline looks at the offender(s) and quietly tells them to zip their lips. In those twenty-seconds, I enlisted everyone on the sideline to help promote a good atmosphere for the players.
Whenever our league participates in, or hosts tournaments I always get the same compliments from other coaches and parents. They consistently say our fans are the nicest fans they ever encountered. One coach remarked that AYL is “intense about being laid-back.” I like that phrase so much because it drives right at the heart of our mission at AYL. At the end of the day, it is all about the kids. We want every one of our players to enjoy their time on the field, free of any mean-spirited comments by a fan that gets a little too worked up for a youth game.
So to all of our parents and fans on the sidelines. Bravo. Please keep up the great cheering and help new fans who are unfamiliar with our sideline style.
*Note – There will be future posts on the application of Positive Cheering.
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